The concept of establishing a radio station at Downey High School began to take shape in January of 1967. I’m proud to have been part of the original group responsible for getting KDHS up and running. The idea was an offshoot of Ron Underwood’s Speech Experience Class which focused on non competitive speech. One of the areas covered in the class was radio production. The class produced programs for KTRB as part of the assignments but it was the student’s response of our class providing music and school news in the cafeteria during lunch hour that made us realize that a radio station might just be a good fit. Mr. Underwood was familiar with the low power FM (LPFM) education stations from his experience with KRJC at Modesto Junior College and the LPFM station at Fresno State. A committee of about a dozen students was formed to study the possibilities of establishing a radio station at Downey High School. The committee and the school decided that it was a worthwhile project and KDHS was given a green light. It took almost two years to get the FCC construction permit and the Modesto City School Board’s approval to start constructing the station. With Mr. Underwood’s unending commitment to the cause we were able to get major concessions from the school. These included moving Mr. Underwood’s classroom to a room with three attached offices for the station to operate. The control room had windows so that Mr. Underwood could monitor activities while at the same time continue to teach classes. The center office was the record library and the front office served as the reception area and entry to the station. Permission was also granted for students to run shifts until 10:00 PM without a teacher present.
Ross Rumsey and I designed much of KDHS and completed the wiring with some help from the equipment manufacturers. Gary Copeland, Forest Carmichael, Spencer Whatcott, Jeff Landon, Kaye Salyer, Joann Stotts, Chris Parker, Frank Marksman, and Scott McCauley were also instrumental during those early developmental stages of KDHS. Jampro a leading manufacturer of FM broadcast antennas donated the antenna which was installed on a one hundred foot tower by Pacific Radio in Modesto. Sparta Electronics provided the station’s turntables at cost and later donated a new console when the original was stolen during the summer. Downey’s wood shop built the cabinets for the control room. There was no money available from the school so KDHS had to buy the transmitter. Students procured as many donations as possible. The manufacturer reduced the price giving us a great deal. I believe an engineer from KTRB became our First Class Radiotelephone representative and signature provider as required by the FCC. In addition to having an individual with a First Class Radiotelephone license all of the student operators had to have a Third Class Radiotelephone license to operate the transmitter. Later after receiving my First Class Radiotelephone license I became the person who signed for KDHS and KBHS at Byer High School. I was working in San Francisco at KGO at that time. My travels for ABC News forced me to eventually relinquish this duty.
Most of the funding for KDHS came from donations and a fund raising football game that was held between members of the varsity squad and local radio personalities. Downey’s coaching staff helped make this event successful . Aside from the equipment our largest cost was for telco lines to the stadiums and gyms. The station covered many of the home and away games for football and basketball along with some baseball. Records were acquired through local donations and from record label representatives. Spencer Whatcott and I made a trip to San Francisco to visit the various stations. We were able to talk about formats and get programming tips from KSFO’s Don Sherwood known as “The World’s Greatest Disc Jockey”, Russ Coughlin from KGO and others Major Market personalities. They were very gracious and helpful but we received the most help from KSAN. Big Daddy Tom Donahue the station manager made calls to the record label representatives to give us an introduction. He also connected us with Dusty Street who was on the air but also handled the KSAN record library. Dusty helped us acquire free promotional records which enhanced our musical selection. Last but never least KFIV and KTRB staff provided valuable input and assistance to KDHS during those formative years.
One of my fondest memories of KDHS was working with Spenser Whatcott logging the coverage area of the station. We drove around in his MGB listening to the FM radio and mapped the coverage. After doing so we found that the antenna was mounted incorrectly to provide the best coverage for Modesto. I knew we would not be given permission to climb the tower to change it so without telling anyone we went in on a weekend and did it. To everyone’s surprise our coverage improved. We never told Mr. Underwood or anyone else what we did for fear of getting in trouble (editor’s note: Pretty sure the statute of limitations is up by now).
This little station got me interested in broadcasting and I got my First Class Radiotelephone license right after high school. I did some weekend work for KTRB but my interests quickly moved to television. Upon graduating from college I was hired by ABC, KGO-TV in San Francisco as a Maintenance Engineer at the Golden Gate Ave facility. I worked on the install of Sutro Tower and KGO-TV provided me with the opportunity to work with the latest equipment including the new handheld cameras. I was working on early development of these systems during the Patty Hearst kidnapping . Moving to ABC Network Bureau in San Francisco I worked for the News Division on locations around the world. After 18 years with ABC and an injury in El Salvador that required a long rehab I went to work for Sony’s broadcast group. My job with Sony was first in sales and then in product development where I focused on professional camera systems. During almost 18 years with Sony I was worked on the development of the first ENG camcorders, 24P HD camcorders and 4K cameras and became the primary support for these systems in the U.S. I was involved in the conversion from film to electronic cameras for all the network television shows and have worked on over 160 feature films including Starwars and Titanic. After taking an early retirement from Sony I became CTO of Band Pro Film & Digital Inc. in Burbank where I continued to work with the main manufacturers developing new cameras and lens systems. I retired from Band Pro after 16 years.
It would not be stretching the facts to say that KDHS started my career. It was more than just that though,
Ron Underwood’s dedication to the program was what really got me started. He gave all of us the opportunity to do something that no other high school in the area had done. With his support and guidance we succeeded. We put a station on the air for 10 to 12 hours a day, five days a week and on weekends when we we covered live sporting events. How many teachers would be willing to give that amount of time? Mr. Underwood did, for years. Others who helped guide me to the technical side were Tom Romano who worked at KTRB and Tim O’brien from KFIV and later KTRB. I thank you all.
Editor’s Note: Jeff Cree passed away suddenly January 13, 2021. He will be missed dearly by his family and friends.